Illustrator Wilfred Limonious drew over 150 iconic dancehall LP covers
New book collects artist's work, also displayed at Hometown HiFi in L.A.
by Seb Carayol
Wax Poetics is partnering with Sonos Studio in Los Angeles to present HOMETOWN HIFI, an art show running through April 24 about the roots of Jamaican sound system culture, featuring works by Beth Lesser, Limonious, and Pekka Vuorinen, as well as artifacts and films.
In today’s interview, Canadian musician Chris Bateman (of the Operators 780 former local fame) explains his obsession for the art of the underground dancehall illustrator Wilfred Limonious, who died in 1999 after having drawn over 150 iconic LP covers. As expected, the quest he embarked on in 2009 to compile the ultimate Limonious retrospective book turned into quite the treasure hunt…
Chris Bateman: I first came across Limonious’s covers when my band toured across Canada in 2003. We stopped into S&W Soul King records in Toronto—which was a block from my grandmother’s house. S&W Soul King was an amazing reggae record store and label. I picked up the Stalag LP that day, and our guitar player picked up the Josey Wales Undercover Lover LP. We were all blown away by Limonious’s album art! From there, my friends and I would come across more and more Limonious LPs, and the conversation would always come back to “Why isn’t there a book of his work?” In about 2008 or 2009, a friend sent me a link to a message board thread about Limonious, and that’s when I started to think about a retrospective book a little more seriously.
Why him in particular? What did he have that, say, Jamaal Pete didn’t?
That’s a good question! I liked a lot of cover artists before I saw my first Limonious jackets, Tony McDermott, for example, I always loved his sleeves. Limonious was the first album jacket artist to make me stop in my tracks though. His lines were so simple and intentional and his colors were so bold. There was also so much humor; I love that. It was immediate and light hearted. His covers looked just as the records sounded. With so many small details and scribbled patois lines, I would comb over a Limonious jacket like a child reading a comic book.
What made you decide to go and track his traces in Jamaica?
One of the first people to contact me in a really supportive way about this project was Orville “Bagga” Case. He was one of the most prolific jacket designers from the early dancehall era, and his email to me was so supportive and nice. We emailed back and forth for a while, and when he started giving me addresses of people in Kingston that I should interview, I knew that I had to actually go down there.
What was the biggest surprise for you among his body of work?
It was a huge surprise for me to learn that his time as a newspaper cartoonist was a significant part of his career. When I would mention his name to people on the island, it was often more recognizable as a newspaper cartoonist than an album jacket designer. He created a number of comics for smaller publications also. Those were really exciting to find and are in the book.
At the end of this quest, can you draw a more precise image of what kind of person the great Wilfred Limonious was?
Everyone that I met with had the same thing to say about Wilfred Limonious: he was a quiet person that loved to draw. One of his friends who runs a printing plant in Kingston told me, “If you came here and he just thought, ‘I feel like drawing,’ he’d draw you just like that.”
In Fine Style – The Dancehall Art of Wilfred Limonious by Chris Bateman will be out soon on DJ Al Finger’s One Love Books.
“HOMETOWN HIFI,” curated by Wax Poetics contributor Seb Carayol: Sonos Studio (145 N. La Brea, Los Angeles) until April 24. Hours: 12–6 PM, Wed.–Sun.
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